Friday, August 26, 2011

The Bass Speaker Blowout Tour '11, Part 9: "Keep Playing"

Detroit. Small's.

We Fiddle/Arson/Black Holes/Magnets/Imp. Walker/Telescope/NMM

I'm at the bar after both my bands have gone over big time at Small's. Sure, we somehow managed to blow the second bass speaker of the tour, but throw all the HiFi feedback into the mix, and no one really noticed the flappy flap that much. We're selling some CDs and hearing killer compliments. One dude is adamant that he being us back in the Spring to play with his band and Child Bite. The bartender is pouring me my third whiskey & coke and a cup of water when the cute brunette in the oversized Descendents t-shirt next to me makes eye contact.

"The drummer." It's a statement, but she's squinting, looking for confirmation, as she has been drinking. I confirm her suspicion.

"Your talent...rises...above. Really." She's being exceedingly complimentary, almost fawning. She's a piano player who is trying to learn drums, and she's asking question after question about my ability to sing and play drums at the same time. I give her my usual boilerplate when it comes to the whole singing drummer thing: it was tough as hell to learn, i used to listen to The Pop Machine sound board recordings and hear my tempo accellerate out of control on the songs that i sung, i've been drumming for over 20 years, practice, practice, practice. All the while, the girl is getting more intense and more inquisitive, and i can see this conversation is leading to something that she needs to get off her chest. It's been on her mind, and she's been waiting for the right person to unload on--the person who'll understand the story she needs to tell. And i'm not sure how much she's had to drink tonight, but suffice to say it was enough to guarantee that this story will be told tonight, because apparently the singing drummer in the touring band, it has been decided, qualifies as the sympathetic ear she needs tonight.

"Have you ever had anything in your life that has kept you from doing this?"

I'm not sure where she's going with this, but i've never been considered an under-sharer, so i'm not uncomfortable telling her that i once had a relationship that ended because of the distance that resulted from me not moving to another state and choosing to remain with the band. But essentially, no, i've chosen jobs that enable me to tour and make music, and i've always made it a top priority.

The dam breaks, and my new friend, fueled by a night of rock n roll and lots of alcohol, let's 'er rip. You see, she wants to do what i'm doing--touring the country and rocking out, but her father is incredibly sick and it has fallen to her to take care of him. It takes up nearly all her time and she can't dedicate the time to her music that she wants. She's on the verge of tears several times during her story, and while i'm a little uncomfortable--after all, i've known this girl for ten minutes at this point--my heart is breaking for her.

I'm thinking of, and i tell her about, my grandma, who lost most of her adult life to a combination of single motherhood and caring for a parent (my great-grandma) who was unable to care for herself after my great-grandpa died, for various reasons including her health. I've at times, on my grandma's behalf, resented her immediate relatives, who never bothered to help with her mom. I most assuredly feel for this girl.

What i don't tell her is that as we're speaking, my father is in a hospital recovering from an infection and dealing with the fact that his cancer has returned and he will soon be losing his jaw and may never eat solid food again. I don't tell her this because this conversation is about her, and all she needs to know is what my mentioning my grandma accomplished--that i empathize.

Every child has to face the possibility at some point that the tables may turn and that they may become their parents' caretaker. Perhaps selfishly, i've always been a little thankful that since i live in Milwaukee, that responsibility may fall to siblings of mine that live closer to my ever-aging parents. But faced with it now, with this sweet, sad-eyed girl living out my worst-case scenario, thinking about how my own father is fighting right now, there's little i want more than to drop everything and be at his side.

She's wondering aloud how she can possibly have her own life, to the fullest that she wants to live it, when she has this stifling responsibility. I manage to say something trite about how important finding balance in life is--figuring out how to reconcile life's responsibilities with finding a way to live life to its fullest--but i have no idea how she should go about this. I don't know her life, and as much as i'd like to dole out a magic, cure-all answer to life, the universe, and anything, i don't have it. So all i say is all i can: "you've gotta keep playing."

She's said all that she wants to say. She asks me my name because she wants to remember our conversation. I tell it to her but i'm skeptical that the beers will allow her to remember it. I thank her for her truly flattering compliments and i adjourn to the performance room to watch the last band of the evening play, our conversation spinning around in my head.

I guess that was really all i could say to her, right? "Keep playing." "What happens if he finally dies, and suddenly i'm 40? I've already lost so much time." You've gotta keep playing, for yourself at the very least, or else, in her words, you'll explode. Would my dad be happy that i bailed on tour to be with him? I'm sure he'd appreciate the gesture, but ultimately he'd want me to finish my shows. Does my new friend's father know that she's put her music on hold for him? I have no idea, but if he's a good dad, i can't imagine he'd be happy about it.

So at the end of the night, i make sure to find her one more time. "It was very nice meeting you. Thank you so much for the nice things you said to me tonight." She gives me a new-friend hug, and i say to her, "keep playing, and take care of yourself."

"Thanks. You too."

I'll be home soon, Dad.


  1. Your writing prettymuch floors me all the time, Deej. Looks like she found the same ear I did all those years ago!

  2. Great piece DJ, and really captures what this can be all about.